If the lockout ever ends, the Saints will have a tough decision to make on the interior offensive line. I think we're all in agreement that a long term investment in Carl Nicks is a no brainer. The dude is good, plain and simple. Let us not forget, though, that the Saints invested in Jahri Evans at 7 years for $56.7 million almost exactly a year ago.
Giving Nicks a long term deal, which is likely to happen very soon, will all of a sudden tie up a ridiculous amount of money at the guard positions. Probably more money than a team should ever spend on their interior line. How can you let guys of that quality go, though?
Nicks and Evans are both rare gems that dominate in the trenches and football teams need that kind of talent, especially when they're a passing team with a quarterback that adores evading the pass rush by stepping up into the pocket. I think getting Nicks locked up long term is very high on the Saints to-do list. But where does this leave starting center Jonathan Goodwin?
Goodwin made his first Pro Bowl two seasons ago and he backed that up with another reasonably solid year this past season. Goodwin kind of gets forgotten about amidst all the attention that Evans and Nicks get, but let's make no mistake, the guy is a solid NFL center. And he became that the hard way, waiting for years to finally get an opportunity. Jeff Faine left New Orleans for Tampa Bay and Goodwin has had his position on lockdown ever since.
There's a reason the Saints have been labelled as one of the best offensive lines despite incredibly spotty play at the tackle positions. To me it's clear that the interior three for the Saints have been the best in the NFL. Still, once they have Evans and Nicks with massive contracts, how much is left for unrestricted free agent Goodwin?
Goodwin is 32 years old and will turn 33 in December. At this point in his career this is probably the last time he enters free agency with a real chance to get a contract. For starters, if he finds a suitor that throws the kind of money at him like Jeff Faine saw, he's gone. Period. That said, I doubt he's finding many investors looking for more than three seasons of service.
It's hard to know where Goodwin stands but one would have to think he views this off-season as his last "real"opportunity to cash in. With that being said, can the Saints really throw out the kind of cash he would want, especially after the stupid money they're going to throw at Nicks? At what point does it stop making sense to tie up all your cap space in interior blocking?
The question then becomes whether Goodwin would come back to the Saints at a bargain. I know he loves the team and he loves the fans, so there's definitely a chance. But again, he can't expect to have two solid seasons with the Saints on the cheap and enter free agency at 34 years of age looking for a long term deal from someone else with a big signing bonus. His chance for that has probably already passed, but at the utmost it's now or never. I think it's unfair for us to A) expect the Saints to invest heavily in him and B) expect Goodwin to pass up more money to stay.
Then you enter Matt Tennant into the picture. The Saints drafted him in the 5th round out of Boston College last season. Coincidentally, that's the same round from which the Saints plucked Carl Nicks. Tennant is under contract already for a while at a cheap price. He's 24, and the Saints really seem to like him. Plus, at some point, the Saints have to start wondering how much of a liability can this kid really be with Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans playing on either side of him? The only question is whether Tennant is ready to assume the duty of being a starting NFL center or not. I know the Saints are very tempted to have him learn through trial by fire.
Personally this is the side of the business that just sucks. I understand it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Goodwin is one of my favorites. How can you not love the guy? It would devastate me to see him sign a huge deal with the Chiefs or some other team in need. But that's a very realistic scenario. Hey, it happened with Scott Fujita and it broke my heart then, too. At the end of the day, you just can't keep everybody. Business-wise, it makes sense to turn the torch over to a youngster with promise while he can learn on the job playing next to the best in the business.
So what say you? Is the New Orleans Saints starting center this season Jonathan Goodwin, again, or Matt Tennant?